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How To Protect Yourself From In-Law Abuse (Plus 12 Ways Enablers Harm Victims)

by | Abuse Literacy

When an abuser’s parents side with him instead of supporting the victim, they are enabling abuse and causing incredible harm in the victim’s life. Tragically, this is an extremely common occurrence for victims of sexual coercion and hidden abuse. How can women find safety from their abusive in-laws?

Tania joins Anne Blythe on the free BTR podcast to share her heartbreaking story of living through sexual, financial, physical, and psychological abuse – all while her in-laws blamed her and sided with her abuser. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more. 

How Do In-Laws Enable Their Abusive Sons?

When I started speaking up (about the abuse), his family didn’t like it and they started blaming me. They would say no, it’s you. You have a big mouth; you speak too much. He’s a great person.

Tania, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community

Thousands of abuse victims are shocked when their abuser’s parents side with the abuser and enable him to keep abusing. Sometimes this is done covertly. Tania’s ex-father-in-law covertly enabled the abuse by promising that he would take his son to a counsellor if Tania stayed in the relationship. Other times, the abuse is overt. Tania’s ex-mother-in-law verbally assaulted her at the dinner table, openly blaming Tania for the abuser’s behavior. 

What Does In-Law Abuse Look Like? 

In-laws enable their abusive sons when they:

  • Blame the victim for the abuse (if you didn’t ___, he wouldn’t ____)
  • Shame the victim (you need to be more ____)
  • Dismiss the abuse (you are just saying that because you want to ruin his life)
  • Exaggerate the abuser’s “good” qualities (he’s an incredible athlete/father/church leader/etc. and you are lucky to be with him)
  • Call the victim’s mental health into question (are you sure you’re not just depressed/anxious/suffering from a mental disorder)
  • Say that the victim is crazy/lying/exaggerating/abusive
  • Urge the victim to stay in the abusive relationship
  • Urge the victim to yield to the sexual coercion/put up with pornography use
  • Rally the victim’s support people to side against her
  • Minimize the abuse (we know he has a temper, but it’s not nearly as bad as you’re saying it is)
  • Guilt the victim into staying in the relationship for the sake of the children, the abuser’s reputation/career/church calling, or any other reason
  • Turn others against the victim 

In short, in-laws are re-abusing their daughter-in-law unless they fully support the victim and hold their abusive son accountable.

How Does In-Law Abuse Harm Victims?

Victims are re-traumatized when their in-laws side with the abuser. Their experience is invalidated and the asylum they were seeking through the support of their in-laws, vanishes. They are left with even more chaos and fear than before. 

When parents refuse to hold their abusive sons accountable, they are condoning, even encouraging, the abuse.

Protecting Yourself From Abusive In-Laws

It’s important for victims of sexual coercion and hidden abuse to know how to protect themselves from their abusive in-laws. 

  1. Remember that even if they never yell at you, hurt you, or damage your property, they are abusing you by enabling their abusive son.
  2. Seek support from safe people who refuse to condone, minimize, or rationalize the abuser’s behaviors. Even if his parents say that they are “neutral”, do not seek support from them unless they hold the abuser accountable and side entirely with you.
  3. If you experience in-law abuse on any level, go no-contact if you can, or limit contact, so that you are protected from their harmful behavior.
  4. Anticipate slander and seek support from a network of abuse victims so that you can process the abuse in a healthy and safe way. 
  5. Call the police if your in-laws: stalk, harass, threaten, or verbally abuse you, destroy your property, and/or harm your children.
https://youtube.com/watch?v=gJhB7cJaHgw%3Fstart%3D15%26feature%3Doembed

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of In-Law Abuse

At BTR, we understand the intense betrayal of in-law abuse. When victims experience layer upon layer of abuse, they may feel isolated and terrified, as if there is no one out there to help them.

That is why the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in multiple time zones: to give victims a safe space to process trauma, ask questions, express difficult feelings, and connect with other victims who get it. Join today and find the support, validation, and compassion that you deserve as you begin your journey to healing.

Full Transcript:

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

Rate the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Podcast

I have a member of our community on today’s episode, we’re going to call her Tania, but before we get to her story, thank you to those of you who have rated the BTR podcast on Apple Podcast or your other podcasting apps. 

Here is a recent five-star rating we received: “Nodding my head the entire time. I’m only a few episodes in on this podcast but I’ve found myself nodding in agreement with every episode, every comment, every realization that someone knows and actually understands what I’m going through. I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg uncovering how long men have been allowed to treat women so horribly and not labeling them properly as the abusers they’ve become; not all men, obviously. Please educate yourself and listen to this podcast.”

Every single one of your ratings, especially with reviews and with 5-stars, helps isolated women find us. 

Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group

Our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, which is our live daily support group is online, allows you to see the faces of women who are going through it. It is the most comprehensive and affordable support that is also ethical for abuse victims. Join today.

Now for my discussion with Tania.

Anne: She’s going to share her story about what happened to her, so welcome, Tania.

Meeting Her Abusive Ex-Husband

Tania: Thank you so much for having me. Originally, I’m from Africa, but I moved to Canada when I was 16 years old to go to school with my cousin. I was coming from work and then I met this guy. He was also from Africa. In our culture, we’re not supposed to marry outside the African community, and it was nice to meet him. I was young and the first-time meeting without my parents, and he was actually a football player. He moved to Canada to play in the minor league and when we met it was just like oh my goodness, nice meeting you, and it was just pure bliss to meet someone like him. 

Enabling Abuse By Shaming Victims Into Staying

We did long distance and I could see his anger right away if I didn’t pick up his phone calls, if I didn’t go to his games, which he didn’t really play that much, he only played 1 or 2 games, and he got injured as well when he was playing Canada. I came from a society that men are very macho. I had a couple of family members that were involved in a very abusive relationship and for me, it was easy for me to recognize, but I couldn’t break it off right away because it would be kind of like dumb of me. I had to get to know him and see what was going on, but for me right away it was easy for me to recognize.

Anne: So, when you say dumb of you, why did you think at the time it would be dumb of you to break it off?

Enablers Convince Victims To Give Abuser’s A “Second” Chance

Tania: Because I thought that I didn’t give him a chance. I thought that I didn’t give him a chance enough for me to really see what was going on. His controlling behavior, and I had friends around me also that were like you need to get to know him better so that you can make that decision. If you come on with those instincts that’s not a valid way for you to say oh, he’s controlling. So, I felt like because of the peer pressure that I had around me I had to give him a little bit of a chance, but the strong instinct was so deep in my soul that I already recognized it but I just couldn’t stop.  

Anne: So, people are saying you can’t just judge him right off the bat, you need to get to know him better; stuff like that and so you keep going forward. Okay, interesting. So, what types of things did you try to get to know him better or to establish safety or peace or how does it progress from there?

Abusers Make Ending The Relationships Feel Impossible

Tania: I didn’t establish anything because at that time I was almost 18 years old and Canada is my country, my first time living in a different foreign country by myself. I just had this sense of indifference because it’s something we didn’t really have back home. I was just like okay I can make my boundariesI’m not married to him, he’s not really like my boyfriend, I have my apartment so I don’t have to go to his house, but that summer he got laid-up on football so he had to move back to the United States where there was another league that wanted him. I just felt like yeah, he’s moving back to the United States and he’s an American even though his family was also from Africa. I just thought he’s going so our relationship is doneI don’t have to pursue that relationship anymore, but we re-connected again and we start dating and by that time it was already almost 2 years into the relationship and he decided, oh do you want to come to visit and I said yes. 

Enablers Shame Victims For “Judging” The Abuser

I just felt like oh, I can rescue him. For some reason I just felt like, again my instinct was like I can talk to him, I can influence him in a better way, because the difference between me and him I felt like was too wild. He was a football player, but I just kept noticing differences amongst our values and whatever it was that I believed in about family. So, when I came to visit him here in the United States, I just told him I don’t really think this is going to workOne because I’m just starting to see that our personalities don’t really go together, and right away I saw this anger come out of him. I couldn’t believe it. I grabbed my phone and I called my friend, and I said he is angry. He showed anger that I don’t think I can deal with. My friend said, again, I think you’re judging him for just a one-time situation. You are in this country so you should just chill out and calm down. He’s a very good candidate for marriage because he wasn’t speaking to me about marriage but he would speak to my friends about marriage, that he would like to marry me, that I’m a very good person, that he likes me because I am not like these American women. They’re more into material things and I’m very grounded. So, my friend said, you know, I think you should try it

Enablers Ignore Obvious Signs of Control & Abusiveness

He asked me to marry him. My friends threw a big engagement party. I grabbed my stuff, left my job, left my apartment, my car, and moved to the United States. At that time we were living in a home with his friend, and his friend was also married to a woman from Columbia. Once she invited me, she said oh let’s go to a brunch, and when we were at the brunch it was only 2 hours. We took a very long time to come home because our car stopped, and we were looking for someone to help us see what was going on with the car. He was calling me, was calling me, was calling me. I would say no, our car stopped and we’re just looking for someone to help us, and we found this police officer and he’s helping us. He’s asking a gentleman, someone just to come and see what was going on with the car. 

Shaming The Victim For Leaving: An Enabler’s Tool

It took us 3 hours to get back home, and as soon as we get back home, he pushes my phone. He throws the phone on the floor; he grabs my computer and he threw the computer on the ground. Everything was broken. I said, I am going back to Canada. My friend says, Tania, what are you going to do now? You’re going to accept this man’s proposal, and now you want to come back to Canada? What is everyone going to say? 

Anne: Where is your friend from that was telling you this?

Tania: A couple of them were Canadians and three of them were from Africa as well. 

Anne: Okay, so would you say where you’re from in Africa that this was a pretty cultural thing? That men just get mad and it’s no big deal. Would you say that is pretty common?

Pornography: Abuse In AND OF Itself 

Tania: It’s pretty common, but it depends also on the family that you came from because my family was not like that. Meeting him and his family and the manipulation and the way that they speak to each other and silence treatment. I only had that experience with him. Right away I already knew that this marriage was not supposed to happen because it was something that I’ve never experienced, and it goes back as well to pornography. Pornography was something that I’d never heard of. Nothing in my house as I was growing up, even with my friends in Canada, we never spoke about pornography, but when I came back to the United States he had invited me to go for Christmas to his parents home in Chicago and sleeping downstairs in the basement, and he had pornography that he wanted to watch and I said no. I was shocked. Your family is from Africa; how come you have pornography inside of your parent’s home? This is not supposed to happen. I was so shocked that he had something like that inside of his parent’s home that I guess he was hiding. 

Sexual Abuse: Coercing The Victim Into Viewing Pornographic Material

He said let’s watch it, let’s watch it, and I said, no I cannot watch itI am a Christian. I had never heard of such a thing, I can’t. I cannot watch it, and he came out very angry again. I don’t think it should work. You have to understand that there are so many women who would like to be with me, I’m a football player. I’m an American football player. I played for NFL, for this team, for that team, and do you know how many women would like to be in your place right now and you’re telling me no? It’s just sex. I said no, for me it’s not just sex. If we’re married, sex for me in a marriage means something different. No, I cannot do this.

Read Trauma Mama, Husband Drama

Anne: I’m going to take a break here for just a second to talk about my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. Thank you to those of you who have rated it on Amazon. Every single one of your ratings on our podcast or on Amazon helps isolated women find us because it improves the algorithm so when women are searching for things, they find BTR and our materials. They don’t have to buy the book, but in the description, it talks about the podcast, which is free for everyone.

Here is one of the 5-star ratings titled: They Get It.”I wasn’t sure if it would be worth getting this kindle book. My divorce is over, and I’d already made up my mind about the abuse, etc. but even though I’m not in the midst of it anymore it is still refreshing to find something like this that speaks so plainly and clearly about the subject. It’s such a hard thing to describe to people. I’m glad this book exists now to help with that. Good work.”

Trauma Mama Husband Drama is a picture book for adults. These images help people visualize exactly what’s going on and there are a ton of infographics in the back to help educate people on this type of abuse. Now back to Tania.

Enablers Invalidate The Victim’s Experiences

Tania: We broke up. We both had to stop talking for 3-4 days but mind you, I’m already here in the United States, I’m already preparing for this marriage. What am I going to tell people? That I’m breaking up because of pornography, because I found out about pornography in his parent’s basement? I felt like everyone around me was just trying to invalidate me because I found this guy that played NFL. I guess it’s a big thing so I shouldn’t say no to his needs, and this is when I started noticing that the abuse was the way it started because I also noticed that he was able to get me as an African, I guess humble and naive, that would bend to whatever it was that he wanted. 

The abuse was just not based on just pornography. It escalated to almost everything. Not just between me and him. It was also between me and him and his family members. 

Anne: So, you had psychological abuse starting to happen, and other forms of abuse starting to happen?

Abusive In-Laws Try To Silence The Victim

Tania: Exactly, and I think the psychological abuse between his family came because how can you speak up, who are you, how dare you to go out there and speak up. This is our son who’s been doing so great. He plays football, he’s very successful. You’re supposed to be lucky that you have him in your life. Now you’re coming to us and telling us that he’s abusive, that he calls you names, that he takes stuff away from you? He took my green card away from me. He took my Canadian citizenship. He would take bank cards. Throughout the marriage, I did not have access to any finances. 

Anne: So, you ended up marrying him then?

Tania: I ended up marrying him, yes. We were married for 9 years, and I left him two times. This time that I left him would be my third time leaving him.

Trying to Leave An Abuser When Your In-Laws Are Enabling Him

Anne: Okay, so in the meantime, all different types of abuse are happening: financial abuse, spiritual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and also you’ve got people around you who you are trying to tell this is happening and they’re not believing you and you’re not getting help. So, talk about the first couple of times you left. What stopped your escape?

Abusive In-Laws Blame The Victim

Tania: The first time, I left right after giving birth to my son. And the abuse was already happening. It was not only between me and him, it became between me and him and also his family. The abuse was because I was not conforming to their beliefs, meaning that if he does something to me at home I would speak up. I’ve always spoken up. I would go to church, I would tell people at the church he’s doing this to me, he’s pushing me, he’s taking money away from me, he’s not helping me to drive. I would grab the phone and I would call his family and I said next time he touches me I will call the police, next time he asks me to do any kind of sexual behavior that I don’t want to, because how can I have sex with my husband and he calls me the B-word. I’m not going to do that. So, when I started speaking up the family didn’t like it and they would start blaming me. They would say no, it’s you. You have a big mouth; you speak too much. He’s a great person.

Abusive In-Laws Use “DARVO”

So, I gave birth to my son and I had a c-section, and his mom came from Chicago to Florida to visit. I’m holding my son with one hand and we’re at a dinner table and she’s speaking and she’s talking and she’s saying very differently about the way things are, about me. You know, blaming her son. He has never been in a relationship that he’s been blamed for sexual coercion. He was never blamed for being abusive. You are the first woman in his life that is saying all these things so why don’t you go? Why don’t you go? Nobody wants you to stay here anyway. 

Sexual Coercion Is Easier For Abusers When In-Laws Are Enabling Them

I sat there and I listened to her, and I listened to him. Are you going to do something? Are you going to speak to your mom? He says, she’s my mom. I said, I’m your wife, and I just gave birth to your son. He didn’t say anything. I went upstairs and I put my son to bed, and he says, you have to know that this marriage is between me and you. It’s not between my mom and me, and if you want a happy marriage, you have to understand that there are certain things that a wife is supposed to do. I said, what? He says first off, we need to start with sex. If you can give me oral sex I can go downstairs and speak to my mom to stop. 

Anne: Wow, so sexual coercion right there. At that moment he’s sexually coercing you.

In-Laws Enable Abuse By Shaming & Guilting Victims Into Staying

Tania: And at that moment I look at myself in the mirror and I said whyWhy? It took me 3 months to grab my stuff and move to Canada. I left him. My son was only 3 months at that time, and I stayed in Canada actually for 6 months. He wasn’t calling, he wasn’t contacting me, which for me was fine because I had already gone through so much with him and no support at all around me. His dad calls me saying I completely understand what you are talking about. I want to apologize but we are Christians and you have to understand that you guys are married, and we don’t believe in divorce, and I don’t want you to raise a son without a father. I promise you that I will take him to a counselor, he’ll do therapy, and I’ll be beside you. I just don’t want you to tell anybody about what’s going on because we don’t want to wreck his career. Please come back. I am here and I will support you.

In-Laws Harm Victims When They Convince Victims to Stay

I said, I don’t want to come back because it’s been almost a year and I haven’t seen any support from any of you, and I feel like you guys are blaming me for whatever it is that is going on and I don’t even understand what was going on. That was the first time, and they begged, and he asked, and I came back. Three months after me being back he was starting again verbally abusing me. It was just a cycle. Verbally abusing me. No one will believe you. You just came back from Canada and I know there is something with you. You want to come back here to destroy my career. I said, but your dad promised me. So, I stayed for another 3 years.

Abusive In-Laws Accuse Victims of “Ruining” The Abuser’s Life (By Telling The Truth)

Anne: Before you go on; that’s a really common thing that victims are accused of. Of trying to harm or ruin their abuser’s life. Like the only reason you are saying these things are to hurt his reputation or to hurt his life and it’s not true. So, that’s a really common thing that abusers say to try and keep their victims quiet. 

We’re going to pause here and continue this conversation next week. 

Comment Below to Support Tania & Other Victims of In-Law Abuse

If you would like to send Tania some support and love please comment below. I’m sure she would love to hear your support and your comments; also, about your experiences if you’ve had similar ones. Sometimes we think that our problems are specific to our religion or our culture and that’s just not the case. This type of abuse related to pornography is world-wide. It happens in every culture. It happens in every religion. It happens with women who are not religious. This is a world-wide abuse problem. It’s also a misogamy problem. To combat this, the best thing we can do is give each other support. 

Similarly, if this podcast is helpful to you please support it

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5 Comments

  1. Kim

    Tonia, I’m so sorry for what you have been through. Your courage is amazing, saving yourself and your son and sharing your story to help other women. God bless you. Thank you.

    Anne, Thank you so much for this. One of the worst parts of this has been his family minimizing his harmful behavior (psychological, emotional, and financial abuse) and even insinuating that it never happened, saying things like “I believe that you believe it.” Blaming me for the destruction of our family. His family was so important to me, and it crushed me to separate myself from them. So many times I have second-guessed my decision to cut ties with them (except for two people who miraculously sided with me and have tried to hold him accountable). It is so affirming hearing that it was/is the right thing to do. Very painful, but a lot less painful than being reabused by them. So sad to realize that your family is full of unsafe people. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Sunny

    Tania, I am so thankful you found the grace and strength to get out of this abusive marriage! I only wish I had not let fear and lack of self-esteem keep me in my marriage for 43 years. I left once but came back. The loneliness is so profound especially now that the virus has kept me at home. I I as just getting the courage to join book clubs and the gym to make friends and we went on lockdown last spring. Anne is right- they get you to ditch friends and family to isolate you. He always insults the few friends I have and constantly criticizes my family members. My loneliness is unbearable. I work from home so even work friends are by phone only. I am proud of one thing though! Money means everything to him and he constantly tries to talk me out of my money. We have separate accounts and I give most of my wages to him for paying the bills but I have drawn a firm line that certain free lancing amounts go straight into my savings and it is not negotiable. It kills him and that gives me great satisfaction! That and the ability to grey rock fairly well now. Sad that my life had come to this but I know that somehow, I will make friends who will see my value.

    Reply
  3. Allie

    Same. Literally same, apart from the traveling to be with him; his family members are all abusive and herald him as this saint that cannot be held accountable. And in some ways, they are right, because the Family Court of America is corrupt.

    It’s like a cult. If you gas them up publicly they can’t hurt you, they fear you and what you can do, even if you’re hiding his abuse to the public you must put on a great show so they cannot touch you. Because if you keep it to yourself they run their mouths and ruin your reputation and ruin your social abilities because you dared to protect yourself from their abuse, their self-worship, their religion of “them.”

    The mothers of these grown boys are the worst perpetrators, claiming to be all about family while throwing tantrums if their adult son dares to genuinely love another woman. The mothers must maintain their illusion of control to keep the peace, if they are used to controlling him and he is immature enough to let them, then you are the enemy. There is no resolution for the wife except to leave, run, disappear into the night with the children. Their place has always been number one in his life and they do not relinquish that without blood, unless he can be distanced from her enough to see the light.

    Record everything if you are in this situation, and remain passively calm. When divorcing do not bring up the abuse to influence custody even though it should be in your favor; the family courts of America are so evil and corrupt they will punish you for doing so! Only highlight your role as your childrens’ primary caregiver and set all their appointments, enroll them in school, do everything for them and do not let him take them out or do anything with them. Do not respond to the in-laws requests to take the children. You must suffer through motherhood alone for a bit while you find a domestic-violence-victim-specialized lawyer, hopefully pro bono. Take pictures of him neglecting the kids and you while you play with them as if his neglect is “no big deal,” and totally fine with you. Otherwise, if you bring up the abuse in any way, you will be punished by your abuser getting shared custody and possibly even primary custody of your babies. I know because I’m living it. Had I known what the family court of USA was like before I would have left out the years of alcoholism and abuse.

    I’m sorry to anyone who is going through this. The courts are gender-biased against mothers and there’s miles of research papers done in the past decade to back this up. Joan Meier is one reputable lawyer who has written extensively on this subject. Richard Gardner’s debunked theory of Parental Alienation by mothers who allege abuse is still used as if it was a fact, though it’s more or less simply called “not encouraging the children’s relationship with their father,” and his abuse is ignored because while being watched by the eyes of the court throughout litigation he has “shown great growth” or whatever contrived jargon they use to brush your history off.

    The family court needs to be reformed badly and the Father’s Rights Movement abolished entirely. Children are suffering and men not held accountable for abusing their mothers. Children see the abuse and repeat it, whether by not respecting their mother as much or by choosing partners later on who abuse them. The compassion shown for abusers is a sickness and a pandemic. I wish you all who relate great healing for you and your children.

    Reply
  4. Heather

    Tania, you are in my prayers. I pray God will surround you with healthy loving people. I pray you will heal and find the inner strength never to go back to the abuser. God promises “if we take his yoke upon us he will make our burden light”. I pray that the gravity of your sorrow and pain will feel lighter after you give it to God. Know this: that those who are against you want you to feel alone and powerless. Read Isaiah 40:31 Know God is your strength, you are not alone, God is all powerful, with him all good things are headed your way. Take this time in your safe environment to heal. Yoga daily and meditation will help bring inner peace. Pray, write down write down write down everything you feel. And repeat to yourself positive affirmations. I have been watching a free betrayal trauma recovery class online at “bloomforwomen.com”. It is beyond amazing and so healing. The class teaches to do those things I said above, and in time you can heal from the trauma. My mother divorced her abusive husband and raised us with help from the government, churches that cared, and GOD above all. I have faith in you, you are wise and learning and become strong enough to stand up for yourself. I wish I could set up a “go fund me” for you, give you a hug and be a friend. I have no family around me either it’s hard but I have my children they are my family. Your not alone you have a community of women praying for you, wishing and hoping the best for you!! Stay positive, write down what you want to happen and pray for it, and say that affirmation daily. For example you could repeat this affirmation to yourself after prayer “I will be free of abuse, safe, provided for, God loves me I am not alone, God is helping me now he will continue to help me!” You will become stronger with positive thoughts then negative. You will see positive change because what we think about we bring about, and what we focus on expands. It’s hard to change our thoughts after being in abuse. It might take time but it is possible. I love you so much my sister! God knows your name and what your going through. Human beings at church are not perfect, they may fail to show the love and support to us that is needed. God will never fail us!! I listen to inspiring YouTube videos by “Oprah” on repeat. It strengthens me I listen to survivor music, talks, you can find what ever strengthens your spirit, mind and body and repeat, repeat, repeat. I hope your on the podcast again, or that they post and update. I would love to hear how things are going for you and your son. I hope to hear your safe, provided for, and surrounded by love and support. Your loved by many! We the btr community love you!

    Reply
  5. Elaine

    Thank you for sharing. All that you said touched my heart. I am so sorry to hear that even your “well meaning friends” talked you into tolerating this type of behavior.
    Hugs. You are a strong woman. Surround yourself with those who truly love you and discern the truth. Beware of a wolf in sheeps clothing. Often abuse happens in the form of Christian guidance that is not biblically based at all, but their opinions and cultural practices.

    Reply

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